Follow TV Tropes



Go To
The (il)logical conclusion of Anti-Intellectualism.
(Not pictured: Human rights.)

"You ever heard of a transorbital lobotomy? They sap the patient with electric shock, then go through the eye with an ice pick, pull out some nerve fibres. Makes the patients much more obedient. Tractable. It's barbaric. Unconscionable."

One moment you'll see a character, chirpy, energetic, and arguing with the nurses at a mental hospital. The next day, they're quiet and compliant, drooling, emotionless — in short, Empty Shells. What took place? A lobotomy.

A lobotomy is a (thankfully, now rare) medical operation that cuts into part of a person's brain in order to treat mental illness. Lobotomies and similar drastic brain alterations are still used as last-ditch treatment for intractable epilepsy, but that's about it. In Real Life, there was little evidence that it did anything therapeutic. The most often performed procedure rarely helped; it simply destroyed random brain matter and caused the patient to suffer loss of motivation, loss of assertiveness, loss of creativity, difficulty in social situations and incontinence and could cause seizures in those who had not suffered from them before the operation. A majority of lobotomies were performed on adult women who were perceived as unstable, moody, or violent (by 1930s-1960s standards, anyway—take that as you will), but it was sometimes performed on male patients (often as an attempt to Cure Your Gays, for example), and in some cases very young children. For all these reasons, the practice was highly controversial from the outset (to the point where the Soviet Union banned it in 1950) and was gradually phased out when pharmacological treatments for mental illnesses became available in The '50s. It was still noticeably present in mental hospitals until The '80s, but only became rarer and rarer during that time.

This trope includes all instances of messing with human brains and removing brain matter and it refers to any sort of brain-tampering effect that diminishes intellect or willpower. Once seen as a perfectly humane thing to do, now treated in fiction as the standard example of medical science Gone Horribly Wrong, lobotomies in fiction are almost never presented as an actual therapy, but rather as a threat held over people or a means of rendering an inconvenient subject compliant and unable to threaten the one who performs it. Very rarely does it appear as a genuine attempt to treat the patient—not even a lesser of two evils like it was often presented in real life. Dr. Walter Freeman, one of the chief proponents of lobotomy, often shared before-and-after photos of patients depicting the "before" as agitated or disturbed-looking, and the "after" as smiling vacantly, occasionally with a note about a violent patient becoming a "perfect household pet" (with it being unclear if he meant "the darling of the household" or essentially reduced to actual animalistic status!), but fictional proponents rarely provide even that much dubious reassurance. Also, while many real-life lobotomies went in through the eye socket and used a thin, icepick-like tool to punch through a thin layer of bone to get to the brain, in fiction it's far more common for a character to be subjected to the older transcranial lobotomy that involves cutting into the top of the skull—the better to show the damage to the audience via the huge, visible scar and frequently poorly-shaven head that goes along with that—though some stories, like the original book of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, instead go for the icepick method and show the damage via the victim's black eyes.

See Electroconvulsive Therapy Is Torture for another mental health treatment that is often presented as mind-destroying in fiction. (However, unlike lobotomy, electroconvulsive therapy actually can be beneficial in real life and is regularly consented to by patients for whom other therapies such as medication don't work, while lobotomy is basically never performed anymore.)

Contrast with Laser-Guided Amnesia which is a relatively mild thing in fictionland you can do to inconvenient witnesses. See also Brainwashed, Brainwashed and Crazy, Death of Personality, and Mind Rape.

Mad Scientists and Deadly Doctors are likely to perform it, and the Psycho Psychologist is another deadly figure who may suggest this procedure.

Realizing that a character underwent a Lobotomy might very often come off as a Spoiler Trope. Beware!


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • The DCU:
    • The Batman villain Amygdala is named after a bundle of nerve cells in the brain controlling emotional associations, which was removed in an attempt to cure him of his homicidal rage, a surgery which backfired and had the exact opposite effect.
    • In Justice (DC Comics), Brainiac cuts Aquaman's brain out to replicate his ability to communicate with animals. Don't worry, he gets better.
      "How is it you Earthmen put it? Oh, yes... I'm just trying to get inside your head."
    • In one comic, Lobo has his brain transplanted into a RoboCop expy. Once he gets back into his real body, he repays the people who used him by returning the favor... with a rusty butter knife.
    • In Starman (DC Comics), a minor character is revealed to have figured out one of the key conspiracies of the comic's run several years before. Unfortunately, greed gets the best of him, and he tries to blackmail the responsible baddie, who pragmatically prefers to shove a shadow tentacle into one of his ears and out the other and relieve him of the burden.
    • Superman:
      • In What's So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?, Superman pretends to use this method once the amoral Knight Templar Manchester Black pushes him too far, telling Black that he burned out the part of his brain responsible for his Psychic Powers using his heat vision. In reality, Superman used his heat vision to give Black a localized concussion that temporarily disabled his powers.
      • This happened in the backstory for General Zod's henchman, Non. He was once a brilliant scientist and friend of Superman's father, Jor-El. However, when he tried to help Jor-El to warn the people of Krypton about their impending destruction, the ruling council had him lobotomized to silence him, leaving him a mindless brute.
      • Used by the Communist Superman to control dissidents in Superman: Red Son.
    • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Both types of Queen Atomia's "subjects" the Protons and Neutrons have had their brains altered so that she can control them better. The Neutrons have been reduced to essentially robots with just enough grey matter left to be subject to Jedi Mind Tricks and telepathic control while the Protons are only missing enough to never question their master.
  • Happens frequently in the Judge Dredd comics.
    • In the Apocalypse War arc, the captive Chief Judge was given brain surgery that removed any desire to resist interrogation.
    • Mean Machine Angel was lobotomized, only it didn't help.
    • In Mega City One, racking up ten misdemeanor convictions gets you a mandatory lobotomy.
    • Dredd himself was given brain surgery to remove his sense of guilt over the tragic fate of an innocent young girl.
  • Spider-Man: Carnage gets stabbed in the eye by Kaine, leaving him comatose. That just makes him even more dangerous, since the symbiote is able to run amuck with his body.
  • Issue 5 of Back to the Future reveals that, during the events of Back to the Future Part II, Doc visits the asylum where his 1985-A counterpart had been incarcerated. Alt!Doc had been lobotomized, leaving his mind completely destroyed.
  • A story in House of Mystery #201 (1972) titled "The Demon Within" featured a young boy from a prominent family who could shape-shift into a demon-like form, which he delighted in doing as a prank on people. Fed up and having had enough, the family ends up having the boy lobotomized. Read it here.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • When Calvin is making a jack-o'lantern, he plays that he's giving the pumpkin a lobotomy.
    Hobbes: Ugh! No anesthetic even.
    • When Susie tells Calvin she enjoys going to school to learn, Calvin looks thoughtfully at her before declaring: "Your bangs do a good job of covering up the lobotomy stitches."
    • After Hobbes cuts Calvin's hair and messes up, he tries to cover it up by tying a cloth around his head. While Hobbes thinks he looks like Lawrence of Arabia, Calvin thinks he looks more like a Lobotomy Patient.
    • When Calvin and Susie are playing doctor and patient, Susie says that her foot hurts. Calvin responds that it's psychosomatic, and she needs a lobotomy, prompting Susie to tell him that this isn't what a real doctor would say.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas: Empty Fullness: Horrifically, Ghidorah's backstory in "Damnatio Memoriae" reveals that San was effectively subjected to one in the distant past billions of years ago. Specifically, it's revealed that the Makers cut into San's brain to permanently make him hardwired to notice little details that Ghidorah's other two heads might miss, so that he would act as Ghidorah's sentry head. A temporary side-effect was that San's Animal Talk messages became distinctly slowed and slurred after the surgery, although he fully recovered it after a time.
  • Abraxas Recursive Fanfiction Abraxas: The Clash of Silver: Walter Simmons was planning to lobotomize the other Titans and inesert control devices in their skulls after using Mechagodzilla kill and usurp Godzilla, but his own Mecha kills him before he gets that far.

  • In Asylum (Daemon of Decay), there's a variation of this specifically for unicorns, called a Keratotomy, which involves cutting off their horn along with a piece of their brain. We later learn that Rarity's kid sister Sweetie Belle was an unfortunate victim of this and was left mute (amongst other issues). If Twilight doesn't find a way out one way or another, this could be her fate as well.
  • In Fractures (SpaceDimentio), White Diamond has the power to "bleach" unruly gems, draining them of their color and brainwashing gems to make them more agreeable. She attempts to do this with Pink, only for Pink to overpower her with her aura and, White having been caught off guard but this, get shattered instantly.
  • Ruby and Nora
    • Jacques has been lobotomizing faunus population to be used as slave labor after his takeover of Atlas. Unfortunately Velvet was one of them. Jacques even threatens Cardin with one if he failed to catch Ruby and Nora.
    • Little Miss Malachite is quite fond of these. She had the Token Heroic Orc spider Grimm lobotomized to be her attack dog and tries to lobotomize Ruby and Nora so the two brainwashed girls can help her rebuild her lost business. Unfortunately for her, they turn the tables and lobotomize her instead.
  • In The Healer's Touch, a rich man kidnaps Kim's mother Ann in hopes of forcing her to give his son a lobotomy. Ann refused his initial offer because it's both illegal and immoral to give a lobotomy on someone, especially a young man with no clear diagnosis.
  • The Redemption of Harley Quinn: After being reinstated, Lyle Bolton advocates this to be used on the Arkham inmates to keep them eternally pacified. He gets his wish, and so far it has worked on them all except Clayface and the Joker.
  • With Pearl and Ruby Glowing:
    • The original cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender grew up during World War II, and when Azula assaulted Kiyi out of jealousy a few years later, the family had her lobotomised and institutionalised, which was the typical treatment for violent or mentally ill women at the time. Zuko regrets it in the fic's The New '10s timeframe.
    • King Haggard, as an analogue to imprisoning unicorns in the sea, is a psychiatrist who kidnaps patients with Cluster B disorders, who he thinks are all violent and "deserve" to be hurt, lobotomises them, and keeps them prisoner in a derelict submarine.

    Film — Animation 
  • Dead Space: Aftermath: Dr. Isabel Cho's unfortunate fate at the end of the movie, when she refuses to go along with the conspiracy, is to be strapped to an operating bed and have a drill lowered towards into her forehead, while she's still conscious. Both to keep her quiet and to provide a convenient scapegoat for the disaster on the Ishimura and the destruction of the O'Bannon.
  • In Superman vs. the Elite, Superman tells Manchester Black that he used a combination of his x-ray, microscopic and heat vision powers to De-power him by burning out the part of his brain that controls his powers. In a deviation from the source material, while the flash-bang that concussed Black and prevented him from using his powers in the comic still appears, it's left ambiguous whether the loss of his powers was caused by this or if Superman is telling the truth. However, if Superman did lobotomize Black, it doesn't seem to have changed his personality as lobotomies traditionally do, and it's implied not to be permanent, making it more morally acceptable than it would be otherwise.
    Superman: Heat vision. Focused through your pupil like a scalpel. Instant lobotomy.
  • In Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, Hugo Strange promotes it as a treatment. Fair for Its Day, considering the setting.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Planet of the Apes (1968): The original movie with Charlton Heston has one of the human crew-members lobotomized by the apes. It turned him into a walking zombie.
  • In Sucker Punch, Babydoll is sent to a corrupt asylum and is scheduled to be lobotomized, which is what motivates her to make an escape plan. At the end, she gives up her chance at freedom to let another girl escape, and ends up getting lobotomized.
  • In Grave Encounters, the doctor at the Abandoned Hospital was known for unethical practices, especially lobotomies. He eventually gives one to the only surviving main character at the end of the movie.
  • The practice of frontal lobotomy is discussed by the workers in Session 9, in what turns out to be Chekhov's Lecture.
  • In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Protagonist Randall McMurphy suffers a lobotomy by Nurse Ratched after trying to strangle her.
  • Shutter Island: During the course of US Marshall Teddy Daniels' investigation into the titular mental institution, the procedure is mentioned as one method used to "cure" violent inmates that have proven otherwise unable to be helped. After a few Plot Twists and meetings with Andrew Laeddis and Rachael it is held as a threat against Daniels in his attempts to escape the island. Finally, after The Reveal, The whole plot is revealed as an elaborate set-up to give Daniels, who is actually Laeddis committed to the asylum after killing his wife because she murdered their children in her own insanity, once last chance to cure himself. He experiences My God, What Have I Done? and chooses to maintain the fantasy, knowing that it will mean death or worse, and undergo the procedure.
  • In the movie Repo Man, one lunatic character laments on how great he felt after getting a lobotomy himself. Of course, he also talks about how radiation is harmless.
  • The movie From Hell shows the man also known as Jack the Ripper demonstrating how to perform a lobotomy to a group of medical students. The supposed mental patient (who is Bound and Gagged at the time) is actually a participant in a royal scandal who is being silenced via this method.
  • Muppets from Space: It nearly happens to Gonzo. The man attempting to perform the lobotomy is a classic Mad Scientist.
  • In Total Recall (1990), Quaid is told by one of his co-workers it is what nearly happened to a friend of his when he went to Rekall. Later in the movie, Quaid is told that he is hallucinating the adventure in his brain and that if he doesn't exit it, he will be lobotomised. It's left ambiguous as to whether the man who told Quaid was lying or whether Quaid was indeed lobotomised. note 
  • The Lobotomist (PBS film) traces the career of Walter Freeman from 'savior' of mentally ill people to being seen as a perpetrator of a brutal mistake.
  • Actress Frances Farmer gets lobotomized in the biopic Frances, although it's generally agreed that this never happened to the real Frances Farmer.
  • A man who managed to escape the Cube in Cube Zero (the prequel movie to Cube) was recaptured by the people running the Cube project and given a lobotomy, and put back in the Cube.
  • In the movie Brain Dead 1990 (not to be confused with Braindead from 1992), a neurosurgeon is hired by a corporation to perform highly unethical brain surgery on an ex-employee. In the end, it's suggested that the movie is the fragmented memories of the neurosurgeon himself who has been reduced to a dissected brain kept alive in a lab.
  • At the end of The Shadow, film and novelization, the villain is lobotomized in such a way that all he has lost is his psychic powers.
  • In Clonus, lobotomy is one way to control unruly residents (who are clones for rich adults living elsewhere in the world, made to be a backup supply if they need an organ transplant).
  • In Re-Animator, Dr. Hill is a specialist in this procedure. After he's decapitated and reanimated himself, he uses the technique on reanimated corpses to render them obedient to his commands, not just randomly destructive.
  • Tempting Fate has a brain surgeon enter a parallel world, and regain a chance to be with his dream girl, in addition to being in a happier world. He quickly gains a job as a brain surgeon, in a building that lobotomizes anyone that's acting out of line.
  • In Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, Dr. Su attempts performing a lobotomy on John to erase his memories. He fails when he breaks free after having yet another vision of his fake family.
  • Word of God says this is what happened to Lobot in The Empire Strikes Back. He was originally a talkative character but was later altered. His name was ultimately even a play on the word "lobotomy".
  • In π, Max Cohen lobotomizes himself with a power drill.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan introduces a biological variant in the form of brain parasites that Khan uses to make prisoners more complacent.
  • The villains in The Loved Ones perform makeshift lobotomies on their victims by drilling holes in their heads and pouring boiling water inside.
  • Political prisoners, and anyone else caught it seems, get "redesigned" in the film The Ice Pirates, to make them into marketable slaves. All, except clergy "just in case (there is a God)." Unfortunately for the monk that was shown among the prisoners, a larger man stole his clothes and pretended to be him when the guards called for his release.
  • Subverted in Suddenly, Last Summer. Wealthy Mrs. Venable will donate a million dollars to the local psychiatric hospital if her apparently insane niece Catherine is lobotomized. Instead, the heroic Dr. Cukrowicz uses a combination of talk therapy and truth serum to learn the truth about what happened the previous summer. She is cured and Mrs. Venable slips into madness.
  • Implied in Under the Piano. At the mental hospital, Franny sees a woman in a wheelchair staring blankly and asks the orderly what's wrong with her. The orderly replies, "Hazel spent a couple of weeks at Stillwater. They decided they had to control her violence."
  • Subverted in A Fine Madness, where the lobotomy-like procedure to cure Samson's violent tendencies fails so spectacularly he punches someone immediately after waking up. He also suffers from no side effects and goes back to being his normal irresponsible self.
  • In Asylum (1972 Horror), Dr. Rutherford considers Byron so far gone that the only cure for his insanity is a prefrontal lobotomy. Dr. Martin understandably protests this as inhumane.
    Martin: Do you believe that surgery is a substitute for psychiatry?
    Rutherford: It's effective.
    Martin: Yes, it's effective... in turning intelligent human beings into vegetables.

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest:
    • The patient who was an angry lunatic before undergoes the procedure, and he becomes an empty shell after his lobotomy. His eyes are described as being like burnt-out lightbulbs.
    • After McMurphy attacks Ratched, he is lobotomized and left in a vegetative state. Bromden mercy kills him.
  • John D. McDonald's Travis McGee novel Nightmare in Pink. McGee is falsely committed to a corrupt mental hospital where the villains plan to lobotomize him to eliminate him as a threat.
  • A rather distressingly detailed scene in the first book of Mercedes Lackey's The Obsidian Trilogy has a wizard perform a magically-generated version of lobotomy on a young girl, because it's against the law for a woman to use magic.
  • In Hannibal, it is a side effect of cutting open Krendler's head and serving him his own brain to eat.
  • At the end of The Etched City, Raule lobotomizes the head of a crime syndicate.
  • In Sylvia Plath's 1963 novel The Bell Jar, Valerie gets one of these. Valerie is a friend of Esther’s in the private mental hospital. She is friendly and relaxed.
  • From the New World: The queerats perform a botched lobotomy on the Robber Fly queen, and presumably the queens of the colonies that allied with the Robber Flies. Squealer claimed they did it because the queen was suffering from mental illness, as well as because they felt their rights as sentient beings weren't being respected, but mainly to organize a coup. This procedure changes the queerat queens from occasionally violent, tyrannical despots to mindless baby-factories which are treated as livestock. Regardless of rationale, Saki and Satoru are reasonably freaked-out by this revelation.
  • Memoir My Lobotomy by Howard Dully: The author is a troubled youth as a 12-year-old boy in 1960, in and out of trouble at school and home. When his stepmother looks for a solution, Dr. Freeman, one of the popularizers of the technique, suggests a lobotomy, and it occurs. The book discusses how many patients were killed or injured by the technique and implies that the author would have been diagnosed with ADD.
  • There is a book series by Nancy Holder called Possessions about a girls' boarding school haunted by victims of an insane asylum where lobotomies were practised.
  • In Norbert Wiener's short story "The Brain", a gangster costs a doctor his family with his driving (they do not die... not immediately). Some time later, the gangster's mooks summon the doctor to perform urgent surgery on the gangster, who got hit in the head (allegedly in a car crash). During the next robbery, the gangster and all his gang are killed due to a complete lack of planning.
  • His Dark Materials: The General Oblation Board develops a procedure called intercision, which severs a person from their dæmon/soul and has a similar effect on the person as being lobotomized.
  • Doc Savage: In early stories, criminals captured by Doc received "a delicate brain operation" to cure their criminal tendencies. The criminals returned to society fully productive and unaware of their criminal past.
  • The novel Geek Love by Katherine Dunn features a pair of Conjoined Twins, Iphy and Elly. Eventually their brother Arty has Elly lobotomized.
  • In Alan Garner's Boneland, Colin is threatened with electro-convulsive therapy and "sectioning", ie this being done to him without his consent, is also mentioned. Indeed, the enigmatic eight opening lines of the novel describe somebody being anaesthetised prior to an operation. He is later seen apparently walking up in hospital and offered a drink, with a nurse wiping excess from his beard.
  • Star Wars Legends expands on Lobot's history, saying he was a slaver who was sentenced to involuntary service in Cloud City. The cybernetic device fitted to his head had the side effect of deteriorating his brain's speech centers.
  • L. Ron Hubbard works:
    • Mission Earth: Dr. Crobe performs assembly-line icepick lobotomies.
    • The Masters of Sleep: In one scene, the chief protagonist is slated for a lobotomy. The procedure is described. Later, the doctor who was to perform the lobotomy is wheeled away to receive a lobotomy himself.
  • In the 1952 sci-fi novel Limbo, by Bernard Wolfe, the protagonist is living on a Pacific island and doing lobotomies on the natives who display anti-social aggressive tendencies (due to their pacifist culture the tribal leaders are entirely OK with this). Having survived World War III, he seeks to identify the causes of aggression.
  • Amoridere's Compliance implies this happens to subject, who was mentioned to be "defiant" and became an Empty Shell after being "fixed". The image that goes with the poem confirms it, as the subject is shown with scar and a bald spot. A later poem, Catatonic Bliss alludes to this again, where the subject (who's not in a good place) would rather be lobotomised (or close to it) than to deal with her situation.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four: When Winston reunites with Julia towards the end of the book, it is mentioned that Julia now has a long scar on her forehead and temple after her restoration to orthodox thought, strongly implying that she was lobotomized.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Prisoner (1967):
    • Used for mind games. Number 6 is made to believe he's been lobotomized in the episode "A Change of Mind".
    • In "Dance of the Dead", Number 6's former colleague Dutton ends up lobotomized for real.
  • The X-Files: Jerry Schmauz from "Unruhe" is a serial lobotomist. He believes that he's helping his victims, who are troubled women. He claims that he ses their inner demons — and indeed, they are captured by photography.
  • Barney Miller: "The Desk" was an episode involving a lobotomized criminal. Defense attorney Arnold Ripner threatens to sue the lobotomist free of charge should he try to operate again on Ripner's client, Mr. Lesco, who was rendered mentally incompetent by his amygdalotomy.
  • In one episode of The Evil Touch, a Corrupt Corporate Executive and former carnie is kidnapped by his fellow freak show members for trying to bulldoze the carnival. They intend to kill him, but the resident tattoo artist - and a former brain surgeon - convinces them to let him live... by lobotomizing him and turning him into another circus freak once again.
  • River in Firefly had parts of her brain removed, removing her ability to suppress her emotions. She was a genius child and abused by the controlling Alliance, who experimented on children like her. The programme was a bit shady and it was not clear why they did it. In Serenity, it was revealed they wanted to turn them into Super Soldiers.
  • An episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent had the villain drilling a hole in random women's heads and pouring in boiling water. Most of them die. Interestingly while most of the team consider him a horrific monster, he's shown as more pathetic than scary or evil. Goren tries very hard to get him life in prison rather than the death penalty. It doesn't end well.
  • President Cyclops, in the TV version of Whoops Apocalypse, declares: "If anyone tries to lobotomize me, they'll get a piece of my mind." This doesn't prevent the Soviets planting a lie detector in his brain.
  • The first "Mr. Gumby" on Monty Python's Flying Circus acquired his distinctive slow, loud speech and clumsy violent movements after a lobotomy (probably why the handkerchief over the head).
  • Fringe: The backstory for Walter Bishop is that he got per his request parts of his brain removed then committed to a mental institution because his amoral Mad Scientist actions were threatening reality. The operation turned him into a friendlier Cloudcuckoolander.
    • During the fourth season Walter starts seeing visions of Peter who was Ret-Goned at the end of the previous season. Walter assumes he's hallucinating and tries to lobotomise himself to make it stop. Luckily Olivia walks in before he can do any permanent damage and reveals she's also been seeing visions of Peter, so Walter isn't hallucinating.
  • Rosemary Kennedy was a sad case of Truth in Television. It was used in The Kennedys miniseries, in which Joe Sr. has a stroke later, which is seen by his wife as God's revenge for what Joe did to their daughter.
  • Dr Arden from American Horror Story: Asylum gives a lobotomy to a patient who recognized him as a Nazi war criminal.
  • Monday Mornings has a rare positive portrayal from a 2013 Medical Drama, but treated extremely seriously. Dr. Ridgeway, a brilliant neurosurgeon, sees no other way than a radical treatment for one of her patients — removing several brain cells. It's risky and her colleagues point out both to Ridgeway and the patient's family that it's still brain matter removal, albeit delicate and precise. They actually use the word "lobotomy", and it gets mentioned than one patient who underwent a similar procedure in Europe turned into a violent criminal.
  • Occurs in the infamously So Bad, It's Good Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Spock's Brain", in which aliens, to put it simply, steal Spock's brain, and the episode revolves around the Enterprise crew getting it back and reattaching it.
  • The Space: Above and Beyond episode "Stay with the Dead", Nathan is threatened with a Sci-Fi version of a lobotomy (stated to be electroshock therapy but depicted as some form of neurosurgery) because he insists his squadron mates are alive when everyone else has written them off. They are, and he manages to convince his CO before doctors carry out the procedure.
  • Sylar tampered with brains of many people in Heroes. Charlie Andrews, sort of Bridget Bailey, Brian Davies, Sue Landers, Joe Macon, Dale Smither, Ted Sprague, Tom Miller, Jesse Murphy, Candice Willmer, Zane Taylor, James Walker, Trevor Zaitlan, Bob Bishop, Isaac Mendez, possibly David, and a random man and woman that work at The Company. Plus, with every person he kills, he gains a power. What's really evil is that he doesn't actually need to kill his victims to take their power. He just likes doing it. Justified as he didn't realise he could take it without killing for almost all of his victims. By the end, he has at least sixteen powers taken from the dead.
  • This is standard procedure for taming an Ood in Doctor Who, as shown in "Planet of the Ood". It's nowhere near as messy as a real lobotomy, though. The procedure removes a part of the brain that's outside the body, meaning all the surgeon does is cut the cord that attaches the external brain to the internal brain. Since the external brain contains an Ood's memory, emotions, and individuality, removing it turns the Ood into a docile, mindless slave. To make the Ood even more docile, the slavers also created a force field to cut off the Ood's mental access to the gigantic disembodied brain that would otherwise link them together in a psychic network.
  • In the Murdoch Mysteries episode "Murdoch of the Living Dead", a psychiatrist named Dr. Luther Bates is revealed to have been performing lobotomies through the nose. He's experimenting with criminals and tampering with their brains. He believes that he is helping society to deal with violence and crime, but he shows to the public only people who have turned docile. Some of his victims end up Brainwashed and Crazy and extremely violent.
  • The Cold Case episode "Committed" involves the Victim of the Week having received a lobotomy to try to cure her mood swings and to take the place of Carmen, an artist who was committed for not following social convention and had nothing wrong with her, in order to spare her from this awful fate. She freezes to death when she's taken outside due to her catatonic state following the procedure.
  • In Orange Is the New Black, episode "Doctor Psycho", flashbacks revealed that Counselor Healy's mother was involuntarily subjected to numerous lobotomies attempting to cure her hallucinations. The surgeries do little to stop the hallucinations, but they do leave her feeling as if a part of her is missing. By the end, she's revealed to be in and out of homeless shelters and mental institutions, unable to remember her real name, and presumably most of her past.
  • Van Helsing (2016): In "Big Mama", a group of redneck survivors have resorted to catching and eating vampires. They take a chained up vampire and use a power drill on her head until she stops screaming and thrashing. Then they throw her into an oven and she starts screaming and thrashing again until a horrified Julius gives her a Mercy Kill.
  • Once Upon a Time in Wonderland: The implied treatment the Asylum was about to give to Alice — actually, what she intentionally volunteered for at the time.

  • Song "I'd Rather Have a Bottle in front of Me (than a Frontal Lobotomy)", referred to as a Dr. Demento classic. It's all in the title, but to recap: would you rather solve your problems with alcohol, Drowning Your Sorrows, or would you choose frontal lobotomy?
  • The song "I'd Rather Have a Bottle in Front of Me than Have to Have a Frontal Lobotomy" is referenced in Tom "T-Bone" Stankus' song, "Existential Blues".
  • The cover of Iron Maiden's "Piece Of Mind" depicts Eddie having been lobotomized (the top of his skull has been removed and reattached).
  • Discussed in the "Weird Al" Yankovic song "I Can't Watch This".
    HBO and Playboy, Showtime and MTV
    I might like them more after my lobotomy
  • Oingo Boingo's song "Perfect System" mentions the operation and tampering with one's brain.
    "I had an operation. With no adverse reaction. They tampered with my brain some. It helped me see the reason. For living in the system."
  • Emilie Autumn's song "Miss Lucy Had Some Leeches"
    ''Before the night is over
    Before you go to bed
    They'll take a hammer and a nail and jam it in your
    Headstones in the courtyard..."
  • The Ramones have a song called "Teenage Lobotomy" from Rocket to Russia, which is actually about abusing the insecticide DDT as a drug. You get the brain damage without the docility, it seems.
  • Purgatory (later renamed Iced Earth) had a song called "Lobotomy" on their first demo Burning Oasis, as well as on live bootlegs. The demo has yet to be shared online by anyone, unfortunately.
  • David Bowie alludes to the practice's use as an extreme form of conversion therapy in two different songs:
    • In "All the Madmen", about an asylum patient aiming to avoid discharge, the narrator claims that he's bisexual during the second pre-chorus ("my libido's split on me") in the hopes that the asylum staff lobotomize him, which would make him incapable of leaving.
    • In the anti-homophobia song "Scream Like a Baby", the protagonist, who is arrested by a fascist government for being queer, is forcibly injected with "strange drugs" that reduce him to a stuttering wreck at the end of verse two. Said stuttering additionally mimics that of Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, alluding to Randle McMurphy's lobotomization at the end of the film.
  • The Velvet Underground's "Lady Godiva's Operation" also touches on lobotomy's use as a form of conversion therapy, ending in the patient accidentally being killed mid-operation.
  • The Dark Side of the Moon has the singer undergo one.
    "You raise the blade, you make the change"
    "You re-arrange me 'til I'm sane"

    Professional Wrestling 

    Role-Playing Games 
  • Wallace Bishop of Dino Attack RPG is an unusual example, considering that he actually performed a lobotomy on himself after escaping Napoleon XIV Mental Institution, rather than letting one of the doctors in the institution perform the lobotomy on him. Being a former scientist, he knew exactly how to do the procedure. His goal was to remove the areas of his brain containing the memories of his family, which were making it much harder for him to cope with being institutionalized. He succeeded to such a degree that another scientist, Frank Einstein, was even able to extract the memories from the removed pieces of brain, but in doing so he left himself little more than a shadow of a man.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Players of Magic: The Gathering can use Lobotomy and other invasive surgery .
  • Warhammer40000:
    • The most prominent example of this trope are servitors, lobotomised cyborg slaves.
    • World Eaters (an entire army of Berserkers) have lobotomies so as to ensure they no longer feel fear. Unfortunately, those with the skill to perform this operation are increasingly rare, so a great many of them fail. Then again, given what most Chaos units are like, especially Khornate World Eaters are like... The effects are completely different than the standard pop-culture lobotomy, though, turning the affected person into The Berserker.
    • Ork doks have been known to replace their patient's brain with a squig's. Less extreme than it sounds, as ork physiology is stupidly tough (they can survive decapitation for a while, and head transplants are entirely possible). Like the World Eaters, the results are the exact opposite of the pop-culture lobotomy: it's hard to find something more mindlessly violent than an ork, but a face-eater squig is one of the few things that qualifies!
  • Paranoia supplement Acute Paranoia, section "Sanity Tests". When a Troubleshooter fails a Sanity Test ordered by The Computer, the game master rolls on the Handy-Dandy Sanity Tests Results Table. One of the entries in the table is "Corrective Surgery". Blue-level officers from HPD & Mind Control take the unlucky clone away and remove parts of his brain. When he returns he will have a large bandage on his head, will have lost all of his skills and have had most of his attributes halved. This being Paranoia, the player may decide to try to get that character killed quickly and bring in the clone replacement. However, since the game rules actively encourage the GM to cheat to reward players who are being entertaining and a character who is trying to get killed can be pretty darn entertaining, that character may be around for a long, long time (at least by Paranoia standards).
    • Another mission involves a rogue robot using a similar procedure to induce chemical amnesia. The Troubleshooters eventually learn that they created it to use on traitors, only for a horrified subordinate to reprogram it. He was aiming for "destroy yourself", but it interpreted it as "destroy evidence of yourself", including its creators' memories and their MemoMax backups. They were reloaded from archive backups from their Red-clearance days, and drug treatment is slowly recovering their Indigo and Violet selves. Question is, will they let the subordinate finish the job?
  • New World of Darkness sourcebook Asylum is based around psychiatric care in the setting, with a sample hospital, Bishopsgate, that has operated since the 1800s. This, of course, means that it existed when lobotomies were in vogue, and so they're discussed. One head of staff in particular, Dr. Jeremiah Moorcock, was quite fond of performing them. He was removed from the hospital after an unknown assailant gave him a transorbital lobotomy.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has the psionic power Decerebrate. From the SRD, "you selectively remove a portion of the subject's brain stem."


    Video Games 
  • Bioshock Infinite:
    • If Slate's life is spared he will be found later on in the game, the apparent victim of a lobotomy or some similar "procedure" by Comstock's forces that has left him an Empty Shell to keep him from continuing to spread dissent and treasonous information about Comstock, that happens to be both true and false, metaphorically speaking. If you put him out of his misery, then Elizabeth will comment on it, saying, "I guess that's what he wanted."
    • In "Burial at Sea", Atlas nearly gives Elizabeth one while torturing her for information. He even sticks the needle in and taps it a few times with a hammer. And you get to experience it all in first person! Elizabeth simply laughs it off though, saying that he'll be doing her a favor, by making her no longer care about all she's been through. He then threatens to do it to the Little Sister Elizabeth had been trying to save the whole time. She quickly gives in.
  • There's a doctor in Psychonauts who removes entire brains. His name? Doctor Loboto. He's actually a dentist and removes brains whole, so they can be used to pilot psychic tanks. They're removed through an extreme form of Pepper Sneeze, and are just as easily replaced.
    • It turns out, there's a reason for his name that isn't just his skill in clean lobotomy. He was actually subject to a lobotomy at a young age by his psychic-hating parents to "fix" him. This is implied to actually be the cause of him becoming an evil dentist, as the trauma could have caused his moral compass to go missing. You can even see his exposed brain under his shower cap!
  • In American McGee's Alice, there are nightmarish children wandering around some levels. Many of them have their skulls cut open, with brains exposed.
  • In Mystery Case Files: Escape From Ravenhearst, the Master Detective must perform a simulated lobotomy on an animatronic "mental patient" so she can beat him in a card game.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Not physical lobotomy but, in the first installment, mages can be made Tranquil; they are cut off from the Spirit World Fade and therefore lose any ability to become a tasty demon-snack but also lose all emotions and willpower. Public use of the Rite of Tranquility was meant to be as an alternative to killing a mage who cannot or will not control their powers, tantamount to execution. However, as centuries went by, it ended up being used as Disproportionate Retribution for petty offenses, and some things that weren't even offenses but were trumped up to be. The operation is believed to be irreversible, but in Asunder, a Tranquil mage under the Divine's orders successfully researches a "cure" (which consists of tricking a demon or spirit into "touching" the Tranquil's mind from the Fade) — and is utterly overwhelmed by his newfound emotions, turning into a Nervous Wreck overnight.
    • In Dragon Age II when Anders, an Abomination with the Spirit of Justice/Vengeance inside him, meets an old friend named Karl who was recently made Tranquil. The sight of his now Tranquil friend infuriates Anders so much that Justice temporarily manifests itself. The presence of the spirit temporarily restores Karl's emotions. Karl begs Anders to kill him since he doesn't want to go back to his dreary emotionless state. Later in the game, it's revealed that the same man who did this to Karl has been doing it to young women in the Kirkwall Circle to render them incapable of resisting him—and another rapist threatens his victim with Tranquility to keep him from speaking out. Judging from some of Cole's revelations in Inquisition, they're not the only ones.
    • It's mentioned in Dragon Age: Inquisition that blood magic can be used to alter people's personalities, but it is extremely likely to backfire and lobotomize the subject instead. Dorian Pavus' father was going to try this on him to turn him straight, which is why Dorian ran away from home.
  • Lobotomites are common enemies in the Fallout: New Vegas add-on, Old World Blues, who have had their brains removed and replaced with imperfect Tesla coils that are meant to receive the signal from their disembodied brains but don't quite work. This fate befalls the Player Character as well, but the process is perfected on them so they stay sane. You can even opt to leave your brain, heart, and spine behind and use cybernetic implants instead.
  • Implied by MODOK in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 when he wins a Mirror Match:
    One of his winquotes: Never again will I forget to lobotomize one of my clones!
  • Five Nights at Freddy's:
    • The infamous Bite of '87 from the first game. During a birthday party, one of the animatronics malfunctioned and took a chunk out of one of the people at the restaurant. Other than that, the details of it are unclear.
      Phone Guy: I-It's amazing that the human body can live without the frontal lobe, you know?
    • The example from the first installment is explained in Five Nights at Freddy's 4. The kid you play as got their head stuffed into the mouth of the Fredbear animatronic by their Big Brother Bully. It was meant to be a prank, but then Fredbear accidentally bit down...
  • BlazBlue has a lot of examples of messing with people's brains to various ends. The prize goes to Kokonoe in her Chronophantasma arcade mode. Terumi runs on other people's hatred, so Kokonoe performs self brain surgery to cut out the part of her brain that governs it. This severely weakened Terumi and she utterly destroyed him when they met face to face.
  • In Dead Space 2, at one point kind of late in the game, you have to guide a needle into Isaac's pupil.
  • The non-lethal method of eliminating Kirin Jindosh in Dishonored 2 is to lobotomize him with his own electroshock chair.
  • Fran Bow can talk to a little girl in the hospital who is heavily implied to have been lobotomized.
  • Mentioned as having been performed at the Shalebridge Cradle in Thief: Deadly Shadows. The head doctor's fancy silver surgical tools are a special loot item in that level.
  • The protagonist of The Town of Light undergoes a transorbital lobotomy in an asylum, which is shown in graphic detail.

    Visual Novels 
  • Dr. Irie, from Higurashi: When They Cry studies practices of this subject. Portrayed somewhat sympathetically, as he really is helping people. The people who pay him are much shadier, though.
  • Not actually carried out, but in Hatoful Boyfriend Holiday Star, when Hiyoko sees Shuu acting rather out of character she asks if he's gone and had that lobotomy.
  • During Sano's route in Boyfriend To Death, he'll give the MC a lobotomy if they don't acknowledge their drinking problem.
  • In Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, it is revealed that Hajime Hinata underwent one of these at the hands of Hope's Peak Academy researchers to transform him into Izuru Kamukura, the "Ultimate Hope" who possesses every talent known to man. Hajime, having had his memories of his time at Hope's Peak erased, is understandably shocked when the Big Bad reveals this fact to him.

  • Girl Genius: Baron Wulfenbach's attempts to study The Spark mostly involve methodically coring out portions of his enemies' brains. One of his past patients is left with cranial scars resembling a checkerboard.
  • Questionable Content: On Faye's first visit to her therapist, the therapist jokingly suggests lobotomy.
  • Team Fortress 2: Medic reveals to Demoman that in light of the last eight times he asked to grow a replacement left eye for Demo; Only to have the new eye not stick as every Halloween Night the new eye will transform into a Monster that the Mercs will inevitably be forced into fighting due to the curse that the Bombinomicon placed on his eye-socket. Medic simply resorted to scooping out the part of Demos' brain so he'd stop asking to give him a replacement eye ever again.
    Demoman: ...Aye, fair enough. Hold on, I did just ask you.
    Medic: I know. Sadly, brain-scooping is not an exact science.

    Web Original 
  • Lobotomies scored number 6 in Cracked article "The 10 Most Insane Medical Practices in History". Lobotomies were a popular medical technique for the first half of the 20th century and a miraculous "cure" for nearly any mental issue from serious conditions like schizophrenia to mild anxieties or teenage angst. Read it here.
  • Dream SMP: While this doesn't actually happen in canon, Schlatt once very casually threatened to "turn [Quackity] into Rosemary Kennedy" (see the Real Life section) if he didn't meet his standards of attractiveness. Really says a lot about their relationship in the roleplay series.
  • In Das Mervin's readthrough of the Twilight Illustrated Guide, she notes that it would have made more sense to have that Alice got a lobotomy during her involuntary stay at an insane asylum. (She withdrew that suggestion after the listeners pointed out that the time period wasn't when lobotomies were popular as medical treatment.)
  • In the Das Sporking recap of Fifty Shades of Grey, the sporkers speculate that Leila may have had a lobotomy, owing to the stunted and lethargic way she behaves.
  • Mephisto the Magician references a Doc Savage expy in the Whateley Universe whose "delicate medical surgery" turns out to be a pre-frontal lobotomy, reducing brilliant criminal minds to mental children unable to feed themselves. Mephisto is less than amused.
  • In "Cassette #5: Focus, Nose," of Within the Wires, The Second-Person Narration reveals that the rare intractably violent patient will undergo "carpentry" in the Extensive Studies Lab, by way of warning her listener to maintain the appearance of compliance while an inpatient at a sinister research hospital.

    Web Video 
  • In Mortal Kombat: Legacy, the doctors at the asylum Raiden lands attempt a lobotomy on him, but being a god, he recovers from it.
  • In Noob: La Quête Légendaire, Elyx's player turns out to have gotten a lobotomy at some point, causing complete amnesia of her previous life. This is relevant to the story as she's the Missing Mom of one out of three paternal half-siblings, two of which are regular characters. Unfortunately, their Forgetful Jones father forgot which one it was.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: In "Treehouse of Horror V", Ned Flanders is global overlord and deals with any rebels by having a part of their brain removed. Lobotomized Moe shows Homer "you get to keep the little piece they cut out", and lobotomized Marge just tells Homer that "it's bliisss...".
  • Justice League brings up lobotomy procedures in "A Better World", when Justice Lord Superman manages to lobotomize Doomsday, using his x-ray and heat vision for instant effect. When the others decide to check out a mental hospital in the Justice Lords universe, it's revealed that he has done it to many other villains like the Joker, Poison Ivy, and Mr. Scarface. It's how we know he's not a good guy. When Doomsday recovers and hunts down our Superman, Supes tries it again as an act of desperation, only for Doomsday to reveal that he developed an immunity since his last fight.
  • On an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures, Elmyra heavily hinted to Montana Max that she wanted him to take her to an upcoming dance. Monty responded that he'd rather have a lobotomy.
  • The Godzilla Power Hour has Godzilla subduing a monster known as the "Gravity Goliath" in this manner. Followed by Godzilla throwing him all the way back to the moon, from the bottom of the ocean!
  • Season 4 of BoJack Horseman reveals that BoJack's grandmother, Honey Sugarman, received a lobotomy after having a mental breakdown following the death of her son, Crackerjack, in 1945, predictably turning her into a catatonic Empty Shell. What's worse is her husband Joseph threatened to do the same to Beatrice (his daughter) if she couldn't keep her emotions in check.
    Joseph: You don't want to end up like your mother now, do you?
  • The episode "Webworld" from season three of The Transformers sees Galvatron nearly given one when all conventional attempts at curing his insanity through therapy fail. As it turns out, the Genius Loci planet that was to perform the operation couldn't handle his evil and insanity, allowing Galvatron to break free and wreck the place.
  • In The Venture Bros., Mauve Shirt S-464 was a mook for the Guild of Calamitous Intent who's found out to be The Mole for their rival the Peril Partnership. After he goes rogue again, he's taken prisoner by the Guild and undergoes one of these to ensure his loyalty. As a result, he no longer recognizes his OSI lover Agent Kimberly McManus, much to her horror.
  • Parodied in the "Toy Story 4" sketch of Robot Chicken, in which a now college-aged Andy turns Buzz Lightyear into a makeshift bong, lobotomizing him to an infantile state in the process.

    Real Life 
  • Rosemary Kennedy, sister of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, was lobotomized at the age of 23 in 1941 and was left with the mental capacity of a toddler. She spent the rest of her life in mental institutions, and her condition was kept secret from the public until 1987. Her surgeon's description of it is... not pretty, though it also wasn't the trans-orbital procedure depicted at the top of the page.
    We went through the top of the head, I think she was awake. She had a mild tranquilizer. I made a surgical incision in the brain through the skull. It was near the front. It was on both sides. We just made a small incision, no more than an inch." The instrument Dr. Watts used looked like a butter knife. He swung it up and down to cut brain tissue. "We put an instrument inside", he said. As Dr. Watts cut, Dr. Freeman asked Rosemary some questions. For example, he asked her to recite the Lord's Prayer or sing "God Bless America" or count backwards. ... . "We made an estimate on how far to cut based on how she responded." . ... . When she began to become incoherent, they stopped.
  • Tennessee Williams' sister Rose is a famous real-life case. It went badly, obviously upset Williams very deeply, and it influenced a lot of his writing. The Glass Menagerie is entirely based on the incident and the characters on his family. The fact that Williams was a gay man further invited distaste towards the practice, since it was also used as a form of conversion therapy; Suddenly, Last Summer targets this aspect of the practice while also connecting it to Rose's predicament.
  • The American Serial Killer Jeffrey Dahmer confessed to lobotomizing some of his victims while they were still alive, drilling holes in their skulls and pouring in acid in attempts to create zombies. The process killed everyone he tried it on, though, which was probably the best possible outcome in that situation.
  • The youngest person to ever be subjected to a lobotomy was Howard Dully, at the age of twelve. Fortunately, though, his still-developing brain was capable of healing the damage, making the process entirely ineffective. He turned out pretty much fine save for some constant eye infections.
  • In 1953, Henry Gustave Molaison, publicly known as "Patient HM," voluntarily removed the medial temporal lobes of his brain in hopes of treating his severe epilepsy. While it mostly resolved that issue, the procedure left him unable to form new conscious memories (though could still form unconscious implicit memories). For the next 55 years, he was one of the most studied medical cases in the history of psychology. After his death in 2008, his brain was harvested in order to more directly study what parts of his brain had been destroyed to gain greater insights into how the brain forms memories.
  • Ricky Ray Rector gave himself a lobotomy by accident when he shot himself in the head in an attempt to avoid going to jail for murdering a police officer. Despite being left with a severely reduced mental capacity, Rector was tried anyway and sentenced to death, which caused no small amount of controversy.
  • Phineas Gage, a young railroad worker who managed to survive his tamping iron being accidentally blasted through his cheek, left eye, and brain, is popularly held up as an example of an accidental lobotomy, but it has since been disproven. For one thing, the tamping iron only passed through one lobe, and fairly cleanly, as opposed to the spot of pudding often bridging both lobes that lobotomy would create; for another, the personality changes and damage to his inhibitions Gage initially suffered after the accident made him more aggressive and short-tempered, which is the exact opposite of what a lobotomy would do to someone. Despite the Urban Legend that he became an ill-tempered, violent drifter, Gage actually recovered most of his pre-accident personality and worked two steady jobs before dying from a seizure in his mid-30s, and in that 12-year period he was actually a scarred but respectable-looking young gentleman. In fact, if Gage's case contributed anything to later psychosurgery, it was hope that people who lose large chunks of their brains to tumors or other serious damage might be able to lead full lives afterward.


Lobotomy in The Town of Light

Lobotomy scene in "The Town Of Light" (warning: very graphical)

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / Lobotomy

Media sources: